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The McCann Time Capsule: Harrison King McCann and Bowdoin College

The McCann Time Capsule: Harrison King McCann and Bowdoin College

Colleges are very much currently top of mind in the national consciousness, whether regarding the admissions scandals or basketball’s March Madness. And they were a special focus at The H. K. McCann Co. in 1920 as the agency calculated how many college graduates it employed, and from which institutions, in order to help out on a new 4A’s-led education project to inform college students about advertising agencies. 

As related in a 1920 in-house publication, the New York Council of the 4A’s was “making arrangements with the colleges in the New York District to make a place in their programs for the presentation to the student body of the place and function of the Advertising Agency in American business life. As a means of dispelling the idea, sometimes held, that Advertising Agencies are merely brokers, interested in their commission and nothing else, it will mean much to the profession as a whole if every man who graduates from a college or university can come into the business world with the proper appreciation of what Agencies are and what they do.”

This led the agency to analyze the educational background of all of its employees across its four offices (New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Toronto).  The results showed that “Out of a personnel of 224, 54 are college men and women or approximately 25%; 39 colleges are shown, making the figures not only interesting as showing the number of college men and women in the Company, but also on account of the wide range and number of colleges represented.”

While it was true that there was a wide spectrum of 39 colleges and universities represented, there’s one that stood out significantly. That was Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, which had the most alumni in the agency by far and had an outsized influence on the history of the company. It was where Harrison King McCann, born and bred in Maine, had gone and graduated from in 1902, where he seemed to draw most of his senior managers from, and where he remained a highly devoted alumnus throughout his life, even endowing a named professorship in the English Department. 

There were eight Bowdoin alumni in 1920 among the 54, and they tended to be in the senior ranks. Other than Harrison McCann himself (Bowdoin 1902), there were Harrison Atwood (1909), one of the founding partners and vice chairman of the agency; Henry Hawes (1910), general manager of the San Francisco office; H.L. Palmer (1904), general manager of the New York agency; and others who were senior enough to be mentioned in the trade magazines at the time, including L.O. Colter (1919), H.A. Mitchell (1919), J.H. Sinkinson (1902) and L.L. Cleaves (1899), who had also worked with Mr. McCann in New York Telephone’s advertising operations. After Bowdoin’s eight, there were three alumni each from Williams and Western Reserve, and two each from Brown, Dartmouth, U Penn, and Holy Cross.

Mr. McCann’s Maine background and his connection to Bowdoin were personally very important to him, as was detailed in a 1976 Bowdoin publication that listed all of the college’s “named professorships.”   Noting that he was born in Westbrook, Maine, in1880, it said he entered Bowdoin in 1898. “He was editor of The Quill, a member of the Economics Club, and several musical groups,” one of which was the mandolin club. 

Mr. McCann then remained “involved with Bowdoin all his life. He was president of the New York Alumni Association from 1917 to 1918, a member of the Alumni Council from 1921 to 1924, an overseer, beginning in 1923, for thirty years, and vice president. In 1942 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree and was praised by President Sills as ‘one who embodies Bowdoin character and Bowdoin chart.’”  In 1960, two years before his death “He endowed the Harrison King McCann Professorship of Oral Communications, convinced from his business career that the ability to think and talk on one’s feet was an invaluable asset.”

Today, that endowed chair is listed on the Bowdoin website as the Harrison King McCann Professor of English, and it is held by Marilyn Reizbaum, who is also the college’s Director of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program. The Brunswick, Maine, college also appears to have a seminar room named Harrison McCann, so in that part of the country the name of our agency is in common parlance.

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